It’s Blake’s 7’s 40th Anniversary (or at least it was, yesterday) and to celebrate Big Finish released a special two-hour audio drama with as many of the surviving cast as they could get their hands on, and damn fun it is too! A fun though possibly fan-divisive framing story sets the tone for two stories featuring a new character called Avalon, set during the early days and in Series 3 respectively. So let’s take a look at “The Way Ahead”!
Roj Blake. Kerr Avon. Names that sent shockwaves through the galaxy, shattering the foundations of the Terran Federation and giving hope to the oppressed. But what is their legacy? Crusading heroes or dangerous enemies of the state?
In the early days of Blake’s rebellion, the Liberator comes to Malanar Delta to aid resistance leader Avalon, but the crew find Space Commander Travis and his Federation forces waiting. An abandoned Federation research project could give Travis the key to finally bringing Blake to justice.
Years later, in the aftermath of the Galactic War, Avon and the Liberator crew fight to survive as new battle lines are drawn and alliances forged by President Servalan. Will survival be enough when a symbol of hope is turned into a devastating engine of war?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) – Avon is the last surviving member of the rebel group first lead by Roj Blake. He lives in a village he can’t escape from, surrounded by other prisoners long forgotten, his past exploits now legends in a book, but what’s real and what’s fiction?
Vila Restal (Michael Keating) – Vila, an expert thief, has been there from the very beginning of Blake’s rebellion, serving him and later Avon despite his instincts always telling him to run.
Cally (Jan Chappell) – Cally, a telepath from the planet Auron, first joined with Blake, but also served with Avon for a long stretch. She didn’t make it long past the Liberator’s destruction, not that the others lasted much longer…
Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette) – Jenna was another original crew member that joined up alongside Blake, but she never met back up with Avon and crew after the Galactic War…
Del Tarrant (Steven Pacey) – Formally a top Federation pilot, Del Tarrant would eventually join Avon’s crew in the Liberator, and beyond.
Dayna Mellanby (Yasmin Bannerman) – Dayna wished for nothing but revenge against Servalan, and woman who killed her father. She joined with Avon and the Liberator crew in order to one day achieve that goal…
Orac (Peter Tuddenham) – A super-intelligent A.I. computer that Blake stole early in his rebellion, that then continued to help the crew of the Liberator and beyond, be it Blake or Avon in charge.
Zen (Peter Tuddenham) – Zen is the A.I. on board the Liberator, helpful for steering the ship and making jump calculations, but otherwise not a conversationalist as Orac… and that’s saying something…
Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) – Servalan was once just a high-ranking member of the Federation, wishing to track down and destroy Blake and his rebels and climb further up the ladder. After the Galactic War she became the new President… although her goals rarely seemed to change…
Travis (Stephen Greif) – Space Commander Travis was once a highly sought after member of the Federation, but after several failed attempts to kill Blake, his reputation began to fall. How many “last chances” is he going to receive?
Avalon (Olivia Poulet) – Avalon is a resistance leader, wanting nothing more than to bring the Federation to their knees like the famous hero Roj Blake, but does she have what it takes to follow in his footsteps?
Cassandra (Kate Brown) – Cassandra gladly follows Avalon, expecting her to live up to her potential, undeterred by any lines they must cross.
Magda (Glynis Barber) – Magda is Cassandra’s daughter, many years after her mother’s exploits. She is in the same situation as the famous Kerr Avon, taking great pleasure in hearing about his legendary exploits, and if they live up to the book…
So many character to fit on, but done in such a way it doesn’t feel cluttered. Great work!
I have to say, after hearing negative things about the book Lucifer (set after the end of the TV series) I ignored it, so imagine my surprise that The Way Ahead also features Avon, many years after his deadly showdown with Blake on Gauda Prime, reflecting back on his adventures after finding a book romanticising them. It was really well done, actually, with the two stories surrounding Avalon being brought up due to Cassandra’s daughter Magda (played by the same actress that portrayed Soolin in the off-limits Series 4 of the TV series) being curious about Avon’s impression of her mother’s ally. It’s very good, and an older, reflective Avon was really interesting to hear. The final part of the story, with some previously recorded audio of Blake giving a speech about how he’ll be remembered, leading to Avon wondering about his own future, was a great optimistic end. I’d be onboard with a new Blake’s 7 story with an older Avon, so long as I don’t have to read a book that even die hard Blake’s 7 fans have … not been kind about.
The first actual story, called “Project Aquitar”, deals with a deadly new weapon based around the Federation’s failed attempts at creating teleport technology. It literally beams people up and then drops them back down as a gloop of … stuff. The weapon is overseen by Travis, the original Travis, the Travis that actually sounds intimidating and brilliantly evil. Stephen Greif is absolutely on fire here, with so many great lines read with such deliciously evil sneering. It’s just a shame his shouts about beating Blake isn’t responded to due to the actor’s sad departure. Jenna is given a lot to do in the story, which is good due to the main audio drama range being set after she left the show. There is a scene with her and Travis trapped in a radioactive mine that has all the classic “hero and villain trapped together and find occasional common ground but are clearly willing to kill each other if it benefits them” conversations you want from such a scene.
There is also a good scene where Avalon is willing to use the teleportation weapon against the Federation, but Cally stops her, saying it will make her no different from her enemies. Later they start blasting away at invading troops, leading to Avalon questioning what the difference between shooting them down here and using the weapon earlier, which is a good point really. Cally says this is a fair fight, the other is playing God, which can only lead to abuse of power, which is also a good point. A good story overall!
Story 2, “Dissent”, has a really good concept behind it. Basically a group of rebels lead by now older Avalon are worried that the Federation is gaining too much strength and are angry at Avon for taking control of the Liberator and not using it to attack their old enemies. Avon is found “guilty” and, using modified teleportation technology based on the weapon from the previous story, the Liberator is invaded and taken over by Cassandra and her men, who are then joined by Avalon. Dayna and Tarrant join up with Avalon, not having the same loyalty the Blake-era crew members have with each other, though in Dayna’s case she wants to kill Servalan, so fighting the Federation head on is all she wanted anyway.
Avon, Vila and Cally are arrested and taken to Federation HQ (Cassandra betrayed them, thinking that if Avon escaped from being left behind he could one day take the Liberator away from Avalon again…), this leads to a classic Servalan-Avon meeting scene where she once again tries to get him on her side, but not before the base is attacked and critically damaged by the Liberator, coincidentally. Avalon is no Blake however, and she soon uses the ship’s weapons incorrectly and damages the Liberator seriously. Unsurprisingly the two meet up and soon everyone escapes on board the repairing Libterator (with one more Dayna Servalan assassination attempt thrown in for good measure). Avalon and Cassandra are left on a planet, and that’s that. It leads back to the framing device (with Magda admitting that her mother kept the betrayal out of her version of the story, though Avon being Avon, admits that he would have done the same thing in her shoes)
Overall, a great way to celebrate the 40th Anniversary!
My only complaint would be that I feel it would have been better to do a more reading based first episode so as to give Blake and Gan bigger roles to properly celebrate the history of the show. As it is now there is some awkward dialogue explaining why they’re both not present during the key moments of the story, a reminder that they’re not around any more, which is a bit of a downer on a celebratory release.
The job of “The Way Ahead” was to celebrate Blake’s 7 with a big story featuring as many living actors and actresses from the show’s history as they could manage, and it succeeds. If anything, it overachieves! Both stories are really good, and the framing device pretty much perfectly sets up a would-be sequel series with an older Avon at the helm of a new group of rebels. Maybe that is the way ahead for the series: a full on sequel. If that turns out to be the case, then what better way to celebrate the 40th Anniversary than celebrating the past, and looking to the future at the same time…